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Knowledge of God and Love of Man: An Aspect of Christian Mysticism
In honoring the memory of Isaac Luria, we are paying tribute to a man who was singularly blessed by God. It is correct to call a man such as Luria a mystic and to write about mysticism in order to commemorate him. Yet, we must be careful not to allow such a facile attribution to blind us to the human reality of the man and the human greatness of his fidelity to the vision given him by God. Luria spent seven years in the desert of Egypt almost completely alone, yet he spent the remaining years of life, especially the last 'three at Safed, teaching others what he had learned. He was a man of severe discipline, yet the writings of his which we are most sure come directly from his pen are three exquisitely joyous hymns to the Sabbath. So great an accent did Luria place on the practical and moral aspects of Kabbalism, that some people have tended to contrast him with his contemporary at Safed, Moses Cordovero. Such a division between the two men is superficial as G. Scholem and others have shown; 1 both men were too firmly rooted in the biblical tradition to have allowed a tight separation between theory and practice. However, it is true that these extremes in Isaac Luria's character point to a lack in our spirituality; we have accepted a dichotomy, not only between 'theory and practice, but worse yet, between man and God which makes the very term « mysticism » coterminus with « irrelevance ». It is to this dichotomy that the present article wishes to address itself. It is an essay on an aspect of Christian mysticism, namely, the relationship between the knowledge of God and the love of man. It is offered in memory of a holy man who completed his life of fidelity on August 5,1572.
Perhaps the deepest wound of our modern soul, a wound that shows itself dramatically in the division we see between « religious people » and those who are « doing something », is the conviction that somehow God and man are rivals. Nothing shows us more forcefully how far we have wandered, Jews and Christians alike, from the biblical insights cherished by men like Isaac Luria than the fact that so many « believers » have accepted the options forced on them by a culture estranged from God. They see themselves obliged to choose between a religiosity that tolerates or ignores the overwhelming dimensions of man's inhumanity to man, or a resentment of man's situation that seeks by violence to destroy whatever anyone may consider to be its causes. There is a third option of course: that of compromise. Many of us find ourselves well caricatured by the image of the man who still timidly believes in God but is afraid to draw too close for fear some of God's fanaticism might rub off on him. We are afraid to lose our humanity by approaching him who made it.
The serpent told Eve that God was jealous and that was why there was a fruit forbidden to her. She believed him and confirmed the fact that the shame men feel with one another and the fear they feel for God derive basically from their conviction that happiness and security are goods that must be snatched from a God who resents man as a rival. We prefer to clothe our frantic drive for self preservation under the guise of organized security (« Come let us build a city and a tower with its top reaching to the heavens » [Gen 11,41), or we make a god in our own image whom we can fear and threaten but who oversteps the bounds we have set for him. In such a mentality, « mysticism » can be little more than a sublimated humanism that subordinates God to man's need to be safe. Such an effort is indeed irrelevant to the human task of building a world fit for man, but it is not true mysticism. A man may live a life of ascetism and prayer, he may have profound or fantastic ideas about the way the world was made (and Luria had both), he may have poetic sensibilities and a deep vision of the realities whose existence we share, but for those who accept the Bible as their normative Tradition, no man is a mystic who does not know God: and no one knows God who does not love God and walk in all his ways and cling to him.
« These are the ways of the Holy One, blessed be he; < the Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and rich in kindness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Ex 34,4-7) >. Another text tells us: < Whoever shall be called by the name of the Lord shall be saved. > (see J1 3,5). But how is it possible for a man to be called by the name of the Lord? Only thus: as the Lord is called merciful, as the Holy One, blessed be he, is called gracious, so you be gracious offering gifts to all without price; as the Lord is called just (< Just in all his ways >, Ps 145,17) so you be just; and as the Lord is called < loving in all that he does so you be loving yourself ».2 This ancient text sounds the theme of the imitation of God, and presents for our imitation the Lord's kindness and mercy. This is a constant teaching of the biblical tradition: « Be holy, for 1 the Lord, your God, am holy » (Lev 19,2); and the Targum Jonathan on Lev 22,28 contains the phrase, « My people, children of Israel; as our Father is merciful in heaven, so shall you be merciful on earth ».3 The exercise of mercy manifests the knowledge of God and leads to it. Jeremiah denounced Jehoiakim's extravagant building campaign and its concomitant misuse of people by pointing to the king's father, Josiah, as one who knew the Lord: « Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, it went well with him. Is this not knowledge of me? — a saying of the Lord » (Jer 22,16). In another passage, Isaiah links justice and englightenment: « If you remove from among you the yoke, the accusing finger, crooked speech; if you share your own means of life with the hungry and satisfy the soul in pain; then in the darkness your light will break forth, and your murky shadows will become like noon ». (Is 58,9-10).
To act as God acts is knowledge of God, to do the opposite can be called ignorance of God. « Sons of Israel, listen to the word of the Lord: the Lord has against those who dwell in the land that there is no truth, no loving loyalty, no knowledge of God lin the land. Only perjury and lies, stealing and adultery; their violence erupts spilling blood on blood » (Os 4,1-2). « Whoever hates any man is as one who hates him who spoke and the world was » (Pesiqta Zutarta on Nm 8); « If one sheds blood, it is accounted to him as though he diminished the likeness » (Genesis Rabbah, 24; see Gen 9,6). When one obscures the image of God, knowledge vanishes from the earth, for we know God in two ways: acting as God acts, and seeing God's image in our brother. These two themes will form the basis of our reflections later on, especially the teaching of the First Letter of John. However, before we pass on to consider more closely what the Bible means by « knowledge of God », let us listen to a few short sayings of Isaac Luria and Moses Cordovero on this theme sharing God's love and forgiveness.
These two statements of Cordovero come from the early pages of his beautiful treatise on the spiritual life, The Palm Tree of Deborah: «Man should make himself like him who made him and owns him... In everyone there is something of his fellow man. Therefore whoever sins injures not only himself but also that part of himself which belongs to another ».4 These are Luria's remarks on morning and evening prayer: « Before a man prays in the morning, he should take upon himself to observe the commandment, < You shall love your neighbor as yourself >, and his intention should be to love every brother as himself, for thereby his prayer will ascend as the expression of all Israel and be effective ». And in the evening, « Behold, I pardon everyone who has angered or provoked me, or sinned against me, and I pray that no man whatever shall be punished because of me ».5
From the rapid survey we have just completed, it is apparent that he who wishes to know God must share God's concern for man. Before beginning the central portions of our study regarding the working out of this truth in Christian mysticism, we should consider in slightly greater detail what « knowing God » means in the biblical tradition.
It is often said that in choosing Israel God « knew » his people: « You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities » (Am 3,2); « I am the Lord, your God since the land of Egypt: you will know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. I knew you in the desert, in the land of drought » (Hos 13,4-5). This second text introduces the theme of reciprocal knowledge: God knew Israel, and Israel must likewise choose and acknowledge him. In fact for Hosea, Israel's whole confession of faith could have been summed up in the cry, « My God, we know you » (8,2). But now it is too late, and Israel's sin can be summed up by saying, « A whoring spirit is in them and they to not know the Lord » (5,4).6 But then, conversion is also expressed in terms of knowing God. Perhaps the two most famous passages which treat of this healing of the peoplpe's hearts are to be found in the books of Jeremiah and Ezechiel. Jeremiah expressly describes the action of God within the depths of his people lin terms of knowing God, while Ezechiel describes the same reality as a carrying out of God's will. The texts are familiar, yet it does not seem out of place to present them here before going on to reflect on what they tell us of what it means to know God.7
« Behold days are coming, says the Lord;
when I will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, a new Covenant...
I will put my Torah deep within them
and write it on their hearts.
I will be to them a God
and they will be to me a people.
No longer will a man have to teach his friend, or a brother his brother, saying,
< Know the Lord >.
For they will all know me from the least to the greatest, says the Lord,
I will forgive their evil, and remember their sin no more ». ( Jer 31,31-34)
In this text from Ezechiel, we see the same themes repeated, interiority, forgiveness, convenant,
« and God's will within one:
« I will sprinkle clean water upon you and will be clean, from all your impurities and idols I will make you clean.
I will give you a new heart
and I will put a new spirit deep within you;
and 1 will take out of your bodies that heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
My spirit I will put deep within you,
and make you walk by my statutes
and you will keep my decrees and carry them out. You shall live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be to me a people,
And I will be to you a God » (Ez 36,25-28).
Origen, treating of this same question of the knowledge of God, expressed himself this way: « Scripture says of those who are joined and at one with something, that they know that to which they are joined and in communion ».8 Theophylactus, commenting on the First Letter of John says much the same thing: « < To know > can mean either to have intellectual awareness or else to be perfectly joined with someone as when it says, < The Lord knows his own >... »9 Such definitions touch upon what is most intimate and basic in the term « know » as the Bible uses it, and we can see how, when all men allow the law of God to to be a dynamic reality in their hearts, they are « joined to him » and have no need for anyone to say to them « Know the Lord ». Yet, we have seen that the phrase is also applied to that activity by which a man gives expression to his knowledge by worshiping the one and living God, and treating his brother as God treats him.
The one English word which includes all the resonances, or at least most of them, that are contained in word « know » in Hebrew, is the term « recognize ». Recognition applies to both perception and acknowledgment. The perception of God, the deep loving awareness of his presence, brings with it, because God and man have become « joined and in communion » , the power to act in a way that makes God's presence tangible. On the other hand, the acknowledgment of God in worship and obedience, in mercy and generosity, renders a man ever more apt to perceive God and be one with him. No one therefore, can be said to know God whe does not act in a God-like way toward his brother; he has either never perceived God or has stifled the truth of God by acting a falsehood. In the prophetic tradition it is not so much holy men who appeal to God to bring justice to mankind, as it is God allowing his prophet to experience some of his own pain and appealing to men to treat one another like human beings.
Our own lack of perception is painfully obvious when, in seeking to alleviate the sufferings of man, we unconsciously assume the role of protectiman from God. Like Job's friends we see our brother in pain and throw dust on our heads « toward heaven » (Jb 2,12) to protec ourselves, as it were, from this God whose ways we will then seek to justify in the eyes of our less fortunate brother. We deign by our pity to supply for the negligence of an uncaring God. Our brother at least feels his pain, and may like Job cry out in the depths of his being that he is sure God is better than this. We feel nothing: afraid to admit the full vision of a pain we cannont « justify », we are also afraid to cry out with our brother and ask God to show himself and be who he is, the lover of man. The Lord said that Job in all his anguish and fierce rejection of any explanation for his suffering had spoken « rightly concerning me » (Jb 42,7). If we were to allow ourselves to be overtaken by God's care for Job, the mystery of his pain and ours might not be any clearer, but at least we could say to God, « I had known you by hearsay, but now I see you for myself » (Jb 42,5).
The aspect of Christian mysticism which we are considering here could be treated in several ways. The most obvious, perhaps, would be an exploration of Jesus' answer to the question, « Which commandment of the Law is the greatest? » There, my love of my neighbor as myself is an icon, « like », my love of God. (see Mt 22,34140). We could also analyze St. Paul's hymn to charity and see its relation between knowing now « partially », and knowing then, « even as I am known » (see 1 Cor 13-12). However, the preponderance of our concentration will be directed to the First Letter of John. For there, as we will see, the themes of knowledge of God and love of man are explicitly related to one another in a way which has become the criterion and well-spring of Christian mysticism: « Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God, and knows God ». (1 Jn 4,7).
As the letter concludes, John tells his readers in clear terms why he has written to them: « I wrote these things to you, so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God » (5,13)." This letter is a prodama tion; its purpose is to tell believers who they really are, give them criteria for discerning this reality, encourage them to live in fidelity to what they have received, and protect the young community from those who claim to possess the gift of God but who are in darkness and leading others in the same way. The very last lines of the letter are a threefold assertion, cast in terms of the ultimate significance of what we experience, springing from and evoking a certitude that can only be expressed by saying, « We know ». « We know that everyone who is born of God does not sin, but he who was born of God guards him and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God and the whole world is in the power of the evil one. We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding to know the truthful one. And we are in the truthful one, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the truthful one, God, and eternal life » (5,18-20).
A good part of the letter which finally results in these statements, is devoted to establishing criteria by which we may discern whether or not our certitude is of God. Here are some of the criteria: « If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the dark, we lie and do not live the truth. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from every sin » (1,6-7); « And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments... By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says that he dwells in him, ought to walk the same way in which he (Jesus) walked » (2,3-6); « He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother dwells in the light and in him there is nothing to make him stumble » (2,9-10); « You have an unction from the Holy One and you all know... The unction which you have received from him dwells in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. This unction teaches you about everything » (2,21.27); « If you know that he is just, you may be sure that everyone who acts justly is born of him » (2,29; cf. 3,7); « By this it is clear who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: everyone who does not act justly is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother » (3,9-10); « It is by this that we know love: he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers... Children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth. In this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him... » (3,16-19); « And by this we know that he dwells in us: by the Spirit which he has given us » (3,24); « We are of God. He who knows God listens to us. Whoever is not of God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error » (4,6); « Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. And everyone who loves him who begot loves also the one born of him. In this we know that we love the children of God; when we love God and fulfill his commandments » (5,1-2).
These criteria move on different levels. Within the depth of our being we have God's life (5.13; 1,2), we nave communion with the Father and the Son (1,3), we abide in him and he in us. On the level of our external activity we perform actions that reveal this life: we act justly, we walk in the light, we share our goods with our brother. These two levels correspond to the secret of God's life —he is Love (4,8.16) — and the manifestation of the love: « he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins » (4,15). This gesture of God's is a witness to what he is conferring on us (5,7): it is the gift of life, « And this is the witness: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son » (5,11). John calls the acceptance and answer of God's witness, faith. God is and has a Life which he has given us in his Son. To accept God's -witness to his gift is to believe: it is to be willing to agree to the motion of God as it answers within us this witness. In the beautiful phrase of St. Bernard, « To consent is to be saved ».11
There are, however, varying degrees to this consent. As Fr. Boismard has remarked,' the activities associated with the term « faith » in the letter of John are concerned with the more exterior or manifest realities. The Christian believes that Jesus is the Christ (5,1), the Son of God (5,5-10); he believes in the name of the Son of God (3,23; 5,13), and confesses this belief (2,23; 4,15). Indeed, John, anxious to protect the Christian community from ex-Christians and those whose erroneus allegiance and propagandizing make them dangerous, gives this principle of discernment: « ... every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God » (4,2-3). This confession is not only in verbal teaching but in a life of justice and fraternal love (2,29; 3,11-15). This is in fact the commandment: « that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he commanded us » (3,23). The bridge between this external level of activity and the deep interior presence of a bestowed reality is that of consciousness: it is knowledge as perception. It is of this level that John uses such terms as « the unction from the Holy One », having received « of his Spirit » and « to know ». It is about this level that we must now speak.
There is one statement of John's in which the two terms « know » and « believe » are used in regard to the same object: « And we know and believe the love which God has in us » (4,16). We believe God's witness of his love for us, we come to know the love because he laid down his life for us (3,16), and finally we believe and know the love that God has in us. This is a process of growth. Faith begins to grow into perception, though it always contained some element of perception, when that act of love in which God revealed himself begins to be consciously immanent in the believer: « He who who believes in the Son of God has this witness in him » (5,10). The one utterly reliable criterion by which this interior witness is confirmed is found in love, a love which repeats Christ's love and relinquishes a hold on this life in order to confer life on one's brethren. « It is by this that we know love: he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. But if someone has the means of life in this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how can the love of God dwell in him? Children let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth » (3,16-18). St. Augustine aptly remarks on this text: « So look where love begins. If you are not ready to die for your brother, be ready at least to give of your goods. At least let love pound at your heart, so that what you do comes not from pride but from the deep marrows of mercy; so that you are really concerned for the man in need. For if you cannot give what you do not need, will you ever give your life for your brother?... But if you begin to love like this, and if you are nourished by the Word of God and the hope of life in the future, you will arrive at that perfection whereby you are ready to lay down your life for your broher ».
The beginning of the imitation of Christ which leads to knowledge is the sharing of the material means of life; its perfection is the laying down of one's life for one's brothers. Isaac of Niniveh gave this criterion: « This is the sign of those who have arrived at perfection: if they were given over ten times a day to the flames for the love of mankind, they would consider it not enough ». 14 Clement of Alexandria described martyrdom in these terms: « We call martyrdom < perfection > (teliosis), not because a man reaches the end (telos) of his life, which is a common acceptance of the term, but because in martyrdom a man brings forth a perfect work of love (teleion ergon agapes)»." When true Christian maturity is crowned by an act of love in which the ultimate consequence of being human is embraced, then the act of dying becomes a vital and energizing force releasing the healing power of the resurrection: « It is my happiness to suffer for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of his body the Church » (Col 1,24). The Eucharistic overtones of the terms used to describe the death of Polycarp, and by which Ignatius of Antioch describes his own impending martyrdom, show that it is only in the total psycho-somatic gift of oneself that the symbols of the Eucharist and the knowledge of faith pass over into complete reality. The fire and fragrance of his sacrifice still linger in these words of Ignatius:
« The charms of this world do me no good, nor do the kingdoms of this age. It is better for me to die into Christ Jesus than to reign over the world. I look for him who died for us, I want him who is risen for us... Let me receive pure light; when I have arrived there I will be a man. Allow me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If anyone has God in himself, let him understand what I want, let him sympathize with me, knowing what it is that presses me on... My desire is crucified, and there is in me no earthly fire but living water speaking in me and saying within me, < Come to the Father >. I have no joy in corruptible food nor in the pleasures of this life. The bread of God is what I want, that is the flesh of Jesus Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood which is incorruptible love ». 16
Ignatius has an all-consuming desire for God, and he looks forward to the fulfillment of that desire at the moment when he « becomes a man ». The way to this perfect manhood is the imitation of his God's passion, for one can have no greater love for one's friends than to lay down one's life for them. (see Jn 15,13). This (is not a morbid cult of death, but a deep understanding of what it means to know God: it is love for man that leads a man to God. Ignatius, in terms reminiscent of sacrificial overtones of 1J 3,3 (cf Jn 17,19) tells the Trallians that this offering of himself for them will continue even after his sacrifice has been accepted: « My spirit sanctifies itself for you, not only now, but also when I shall have attained to God ». ' Thus, we see that a man gives his life to God because he loves his friends, and more deeply still, because he loves God and is willing to be seized upon by God's love for man. In the passion of Christ, « God sets forth his love for us ». (Rom 5,8); it is God who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son (Jn 3,16). One comes to know God, in the classic phrase of the mystics, « not by learning divine things, but by suffering them »." God's love for man is set loose in history by those who are willing to know it in suffering: « The world must know that I love the Father and do as the Father has commanded me ». (Jn 14,31)
In his Letter, John sets down as a metaphysical principle: « We love because he first loved us ». And we have a criterion for knowing whether or not this initiative of God's has taken root in us: « If anyone says, < I love God > and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen » (4,19-20). This statement follows upon another made a few lines earlier. « No one has ever beheld God; if we love one another, God dwells in us and his love is perfected in us » (4,12). No one has ever beheld God. Yet the object of all mystical endeavor has always been the vision of God: when will we see God? When he appears: « We know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him just as he is » (3,2). God's Son has come and « declared him to us » (Jri 1,18); one day this manifestation will be complete, now we are in the process of « becoming like him » by « imitating the passion of our God ». The knowledge we have grows toward vision as we allow the dynamics of our birth from God to have its way within us: « Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God » (4,7). This is the beginning and flower of Christian mysticism. « Love your neighbor, and look within yourself to the source of that love: there you will see, as you are able, God ». 19 « Love your brother. If you love your brother whom you see, you will at that moment see God; for you will see love itself, and therein dwells God ». 20 « Let no one say, « I do not know what I love » Let him love his brother, and let him love love itself. He knows more deeply the love by which he loves than the brother whom he loves. For God can be more known to him than his brother: he is obviously more known because he is more present, he is more known because he is deeper within, he is more known because he is more sure ». 21 These texts from St. Augustine surely bear witness that there is no rivalry on God's part in the way he cares for man. « Let no one try to determine how much love we should give to our brother and how much to God. We should love our brother as much as we love ourselves; and we love ourselves more as we love God more ». 22
The knowledge of God which is brought to actuality by loving one's brother is an experience of « sympathy », that is of knowing and suffering the love that God has for man. But, as we have already seen in the rabbinic texts, there is another dimension to this knowledge: it is the discovery of God in his image, my brother. Not only do I recognize God as he breathes through me, I perceive him present in that living reflection of himself that is a human being. St. Augustine, fascinated by this love of Christ which moves in every person and is answered by another, envisages the final transformation of human history as, « There will be one Christ loving himself ». 23
There is a saying handed on in Tradition which was considered part of the written revealed Tradition, though we find it nowhere in the Bible. It says: « When you see your brother, you see your God ». The general atmosphere surrounding this agraphon leads one to suspect that its most frequent use was in the context of hospitality and practical love. It breathes much the same air as that saying of Jesus quoted by Paul in his speech at Miletus (Act 20,35): « There is more happiness in giving than in receiving ». Tertullian is one of the first authors we find using the phrase we are considering; it is in his treatise on prayer. « Do not let the brother who has come to visit you leave without praying together; for, as it is said: « You see your brother, you see your Lord ». This is especially to be observed if your brother (is on a journey: he might be an angel ». 24 There seems to be an allusion here to Heb 13,2: « Let brotherly love continue; and remember always to welcome strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it ». The Letter to the Hebrews itself seem to be alluding to the mysterious visitors entertained by Abraham and Lot (Gen 18-19). Abbas Apollos, one of the mystics of desert spirituality, makes the same allusion. « Abbas Apollos said concerning hospitality to the brothers: We should prostrate ourselves before brothers who come to us; we are not adoring them but God. For, it is said, <. When you see your brother, you see the Lord your God >. This, he said, is passed on to us from Abraham. And when you receive someone, constrain him to stay and rest; this we learn from Lot who constrained the angels ». " Another desert Father, Abbas Dorotheus of Gaza, uses this phrase also in the context of hospitality and love. This bold phrase occurs over and over again in Tradition as an inspired piece of teaching, deriving perhaps from that meeting between Abraham and the Lord, in which, after his service of love and receptivity, Abraham undertakes to bargain with God and force his mercy toward men to overcome his justice.
But there is another use of this phrase in Christian mysticism, one that is more philosophical and which is much more explicit in attributing Scriptural authority to its doctrine. In his First Book of the Stromata, 27 Clement of Alexandria is in the process of defending the validity and divine origin of the truths discovered by the Greek philosophers: « Some would have it that the philosophers said certain things in so far as they were reflections of the truth. But the holy apostle says even of us, < Now we see, as it were, in a mirror > (1 Cor 13,12). We know ourselves as it is reflected from him and we behold, as far as is possible, the creative cause according to the divine element in us. For it is said: < You see your brother, you see your God >. I think that it is the Savior who is now designated for us by this saying of God ». The platonic inufluence is evident in Clement's use of such terms as « reflection », « divine element », « creative cause », yet to establish the truth of what he says, Clement has recourse to authority. He first quotes St. Paul to prove that even the knowledge that Christians have of God is, at this stage of their existence, partial and « reflected ». Clement then quotes our saying as teaching three things: we know God because there is 'something of God at the root of our consciousness; we see this reflection of God in one another; the saying that in seeing our brother we see God in his icon, is literally and uniquely true when we see our brother Jesus. In the Second Book of the Stromata 28 we find this same blending of self-knowledge and knowledge of one's brother hinging on this saying once again. Clement is now comparing the sayings of the Greek sages and the Sacred Writings and showing how the former are dependent upon the latter: Pythagoras drew his « follow God » from the description of Abraham in Gen 12,4; the pardon offered to the people after their sin at Mt. Sinai inspired one of the sages with, « Pardon is better than punishment ».« And even more mysterious is the < Know thyself >, which comes from, < You see your brother, you see your God > ». Besides the Scriptural authority implicitly attributed to this saying, there is once again the theme that self-knowledge and the vision of one's brother are intimately connected. My brother is the icon of God; thus, « He who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes » (2,11).
He who cannot see his brother, cannot see Christ, for what we do to the least of his brethren we are doing to him. And he who sees Christ sees God for, « He who sees me sees the Father » (Jn 14,8). Christians are meant to « see Christ » in everyone they meet: too often this is understood as the arid application of some principle, whereas it is meant to be the joyful fruit of fidelity to love. The pure of heart, the single minded, will see God (Mt 5,8) not only in the cult and in private prayer, but also in the exercise of mercy. « He who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbor, he who, in regard to that in which he has some advantage helps those who are less fortunate, he who gives freely to those who have need of the goods he has received from God, becomes « God » to those who receive from him: such a man is an imitator of God. Then you will behold God who lives in heaven, even while you live on earth, and you will begin to speak the mysteries of God ». 29 If you see your brother, you see your God: « seeing Christ » in a human being is not a moral obligation, it is a discovery. Love of my brother gives sight to my eyes.
God is the Philanthropos, the lover of man; it is only to God that the ancient Tradition ascribes this term. He who would search for God must be able to see as God sees, and for this he must love his brother. « If anyone says, < I love God >, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has 'seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen ». Didymus, the blind visionary of Alexandria, has left us an explanation of how love restores the manifestation of God to men and in men: « How much more is this (mutual love) able to exist now that the Savior has taken the sin of the world in order that man might appear as who he really is as made by God; revealed to be according to the likeness and image of him who made him. Thus man appeared immediately as loveable and worthy of being loved. The Savior was sent into the world by the love he and his Father have for his creatures, so that he might manifest the beauty of those who are made after the image of God. Those attaining this gift attain to being loveable, whence they love one another ». 30
The knowledge of God is a presence in us of the Icon of God; it is a knowledge of the « glory of God shining on the face of Christ » (2Cor 4,6). But the face of Christ is everywhere: « What you did to the least of my brethren you did to me » (Mt 25,40) As St. Augustine sums it up: « Whoever does not have love denies that Christ came in the flesh », 31 again: « I have ascended into heaven, but I am still on earth: here I am seated at the right hand of the Father, there I still know hunger and thirst, and am still a stranger ». 32
The great intellectual mystics of the Christian Tradition have often reflected on that mission of the Son to each soul by which he is known. Augustine's formula, « The Son is sent whenever he is perceived », often forms the basis of this reflection. St. Thomas Aquinas sums up this line of thought in a dense paragraph of the Summa Theologica: «When a divine Person is sent to someone by grace, there is an assimilation of that man to the divine Person... The Son is the Word, but not just any word; he is a Word breathing forth love. As Augustine says, < The Word which we wish to discuss is a knowledge with love >. Therefore it is not according to just any perfection of the mind that the Son can be said to be sent, but according to that enlightenment of the mind which bursts forth in an affection of love, as is said in Jn 6,45, « Whoever hears the Father and learns comes to me', and in Ps 38,4, < In my meditation a fire burst forth >. Thus Augustine says so rightly that the Son is sent when he is known by someone and perceived. <. Perception > in this context signifies the perception of experience ». " This beautiful text elucidates the nature of that love by which a man is born of God and knows God: his birth is an assimilation to the Son, and his knowledge is a perception of the Word breathing forth love. When such a man sees his brother he recognizes God. In the brother who stands before him he knows that « the Son is sent whenever he is perceived ».
As we conclude this study of the relationship between knowledge of God and love of man in the Christian Tradition, it seems most apt to include some of the sayings of those men who lived in the deserts of Egypt, Gaza, northern Israel and Syria, and elsewhere. These men are called the « Desert Fathers ». Most of them are anonymous; some have left sayings or writings which, as they passed from generation to generation acquired the holiness and insight of others who were content to be called their disciples. How often these men have been held up to ridicule and alleged as the singular proof that « mysticism » makes a man unfit for « real life ». Their eyes, however, see through our illusions and shabby humanism. These men who wished only to be called the « brothers of Jesus » were undoubtedly indiscreet: they loved too much, they searched too single-mindedly, they were too slow to separate themselves from those of their brethren who gave them a bad name, they practiced too thoroughly their living experience of the humility and 'service of Jesus. However, their gentle and deceptive limpidity often hides an abyss of fire. They may have succeeded in living outside the web of illusion we think society needs, but rthey never separated themselves from their brothers: « The monk is one who, although he is separated from all, is united to all his fellow men ».
One of the brothers, who was not in the desert, wrote to Abbas John and asked what it meant to achieve pure prayer by « dying to all men ». The Spiritual Father answered: « Never judge or despise anyone, and never be attached to your own will: that is how to die to all men while living among them ». " Abbas Pachomius instructed his brothers that among the good works of patience, fasting, prayer, etc., there must be « one heart with your brother ». He went on to say, « The pagans walk in the darkness without knowing the light (Eph (4,17); and it is the same with someone who hates his brother: he walks in darkness and does not know God because hatred and enmity have clouded his eyes and he does not see the image of God ». " It is this same Pachomius who said, « He who is at peace with his brother is at peace with God », who had disciples flocking to him and trusting him because « he was good to them ». He himself learned his vocation in prayer. As he was praying in great desolation desiring to know the will of God, « a radiant being appealuTosuopslp os noA aar Atm .> Twin pre tun' of pare why is your heart so sad? > He answered, < I am seeking the will of God >. The other said to him, < Do you really want the will of God? Pachomius answered, < Yes >. This person then said to him, < The will of God is that you serve the human race in order to reconcile it to him >. Pachomius answered somewhat annoyed, < I am looking for the will of God, and you tell me to serve men! > The other repeated three times, < It is the will of God that you serve men to call them to him > ». 37
History tells us how well Pachomius honored « the covenant he made with God ». 38 This man who was known as the « Father of the Community », the grace of whose soul still touches all those Christians who imitate him, trained his disciples this way:
« He prepared the table for them when it was time to eat, and likewise it was he who planted the vegetables and watered them. If someone knocked at the door, he answered, and if someone were sick he eagerly spent the night near them taking care of them. For the younger brothers had not yet arrived at that state of soul whereby they could serve one another. Nevertheless, he took all care from their minds saying, < Strive.to attain that to which you were called brothers. Meditate the psalms and the other lessons of the Bible, but especially the Gospels. While I, serving God and you according to the command of God, find my rest ». 39
Is mysticism relevant? Yes, if it its a living knowledge of God. Who else but God is the lover of man, and of what does man stand in greater need in this world of fear and hate, than of a love which does not wait for merit or invitation: « Just as God did not wait for us to love him, so we should not wait for others to love us, but rather we should love first. The love of the Father is proved because he sent the Son; the Son's love is proved because he died ». 40 The greatest obstacle to peace in the world is that there are no mystics; there are not enough people to enter into God's fire and learn to pray. There is a tradition which, as we have seen, is at least as old as Gen 18 which says that, « the world holds together by the prayers of the just » 44 just are those who know how much God desires to overcome the world with mercy.
St. Catherine of Siena tells us that the Lord told her: « I have given you your neighbor as a means of doing for him what you cannot do for me: that is, love him without looking for any recompense or deriving any profit ». " In our own day, Brother Charles of Jesus, another desert father, used to say, « We learn to love God by loving men ». St Theres of Lisieux offered her whole life « as a holocaust victim to your merciful love; begging you to consume me ceaselessly by letting the waves of infinite tenderness which are pent up in you overflow into my soul, so that I will thus become a martyr of your love, my God ». 43 Silouan, the Staretz who died at Mt. Athos in 1938, gave this as the criterion of pure prayer: « Sometimes the Holy Spirit draws a man so wholly to himself, that he forgets all created things and gives himself entirely to the contemplation of God. But when the soul remembers the world again, filled with the love of God, she feels compassion for all and prays for the whole world. In this praying the soul may once again forget the world and repose in the one God, only to return once more to her prayer for all mankind. »44.
The rivalry that we sense between God and man, between mysticism and humanism, between prayer and a hunger and thirst for justice, derives from that wound in our soul which leads us to fear God. We are afraid because truth seems so harsh and condemning, we resent the presence of suffering because it reminds us of our own fragility, and our desire for escape is so strong that we impute it to others if they set out to search for God. But God, the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob speaks to us and tells us: « I will look of ter them for their good, to bring them back to this land, to build them up and not break them down, to plant them and not tear them up. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they will be Ito me a people and I will be to them a God, for they will come back to me with all their heart » ( Jer 24,6-7). We know that our world is wounded; we know of no cure. « Jesus sat down on the mountain and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others. They dropped them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel » (Mt 15,30-31). Perhaps we should put aside even our concern about mysticism and listen once again to these gentle words of Abbas Pachomius who lived in a world whose pain and confusion were like our own: « My brothers, let us love all men, then we will be friends of Jesus, who is the friend of men ».
1. G. SCHOLEM, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, (New York: Schocken Paperback, 1961) p. 244
2. I am indebted for many of the references to rabbinic and other literature in the early part of this study to the essays of I. ABRAHAMS collected in, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, First and Second Series (Repr. New York: Ktav, 1967); especially the essays on: « God's Forgiveness », « Man's Forgiveness », « The Imitation of God ». The text to which reference has just been made is Sifre on Dt 11,22: cf Horowitz/Finkelstein (Repr. Jewish Theol. Seminary, New York, 1969) p. 114.
3. For a discussion of this text of TJ 1 and its variants, see M. MCNAMARA , The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch [Anal. Bib., 27] (Roma: Pont. Bibl. Inst., 1966), p. 133 ff.
4 See SCHOLEM, op. cit. p. 279.
5 For the first reference see: B. MARTIN, Prayer in Judaism (New York: Basic Books, 1968) p. 21.
6. For a more complete treatment of the theme of « knowledge » in Hosea, see: H. W. WOLFF, « "Wissen urn Gott" bei Hosea als Urform von Theologie » Evang. Theol. 12 (1952 s.) 533-554.
7. A clear presentation of these texts and their relation to the First Letter of John can be found in: M.-E. BOISMARD, « La• Connaissance dans L'Alliance Nouvelle, d'apres la Premiere Lettre de Saint Jean » Rev. Bib. 56 (1949) 365-391.
8. In Jn 19 (Patrologia Graeca [hereafter PG], 14,529).
9. In ljn (PG 126,20).
10. Numbers which appear in this essay indicating chapter and verse but not giving a book of the Bible, are all referring to ljn. I am indebted to the translation of Un done by E. Malatesta, (The Epistles of St. John [Fano, 1967]) for most of the english translations of 1Jn.
11. De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, 1 (Patrologia Latina [hereafter PL], 182,1002).
12. Art. cit. p. 385 ff.
13. In ljn; 5,12 and 6,1 (Sources chretiennes (Paris: Cerf, 1948-) [hereafter SC] 75,268 and 278).
14. De Perfectione Rel., 74. Cited by I. HAUSHERR, Direction Spirituelle en Orient Autrefois (Roma: Pont. Or. Inst., 1955) pp. 64-65.
15. Stromata IV,4 (PG 8,1228).
16. Letter to the Romans 6,1-7,3 (SC 10,132-136).
17. To the Trallians 12 (SC 10,122); cf. To the Ephesians 8,1 (ibid. 76).
18. See, ex. gr. Ps.-Dionysios, On the Divine Names 9 (PG 3,648B).
19. ST. AUGUSTINE, In Jn; 17,8 (Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina (Brepols, 1954-) [hereafter CC] 36,174).
20. ID. In lJn; 5,7 (SC 75,262).
21. ID. De Trin; 8,12 (CC 50,286).
22. Ibid. (CC 50,288-289).
23. In ljn; 10,3 (SC 75,414).
24. De Oratione 26 (CC 1,273).
25. Apothegmata Patrum (PG 65,136).
26. Letter 1 (SC 92,490).
27. 1,19,94 (SC 30,120).
28. 11,15,71 (SC 38,90).
29. Letter to Diognetus 10,7 (SC 33,76 ff).
30. In lJn 4,7 (PG 39,1797).
31. In lJn 6,13 (SC 75,308).
32. Id. lJn 10,9 (SC 75,432).
33. Summa Theol. 1,43,5 ad 2. References to ST. AUGUSTINE: De Trin. 9,10; 4,5.
34. EVAGRIUS, On Prayer 124 (PG 79,1193).
35. See: L. REGNAULT (ed.), Maitres Spirituels au Desert de Gaza (Ed. de Solesmes, 1967) p. 80.
36. First Catechesis; see: L. TH. LEFORT, Les Oeuvres de S. Pachdme [CSCO, 160] (Louvain, 1956) p. 21,11; 15,18-22.
37. Third Sahidic Life; see: LEFORT, Les Vies Coptes de S. Pachdme [Bibl. de Museon, 16] (Louvain, 1943) pp. 60-61.
38. First Sahidic Life; LEFORT, op. cit. p. 4,6-7.
39. First Greek Life 24; F. HALKIN, Sancti Pachomii Vitae Graecae [St. Subsid., 19] (Bruxelles, 1932) p. 15.
40. Glossa Ordinaria on ljn 4,10; Nicholas of Lyra, ed. (Venetiis, 1603), 1404.
41. ST. THOMAS AQ. On Mt 24,5-8 (Ed. Marietti, 1951) p. 297, 1914.
42. Dialogo; G. Cavallini (ed.) (Roma: Edizione Cateriniane, 1968) LXIV, p. 140.
43. Manuscrits autobiographiques (Carmel de Lisieux, 1957) p. 320.
14 The Undistorted Image; Archimandrite Sofrony (ed.) (London: Faith Press, 1958) p. 81.